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RAC and Southgate: Building A Better Community

Some of RCA's work generates big headlines, but some of it doesn't. Find out about the low-profile work RCA's Accessibility Committee has done to improve the Southgate Community Center.

The last couple of months have been very busy for us at RCA.  Doubtless you've heard about a lot of the issues we've been working on, either in this space or from articles in Patch, the Washington Post, the Examiner, and elsewhere. We've been advocating on matters ranging from the 23-story office tower to the future of Reston National golf course to the effect that rising tolls on the Dulles Toll Road will have on our community.  We've formed a momentous alliance with Reston Association and ARCH to stand up together on issues that affect the community.  We've made some progress and suffered some setbacks.  All in all, we've had a couple of very busy months.

But not all of the work we do is as high-profile as these issues, and not everything we do gets media attention.  But sometimes, the lower-profile stuff has as much or even more impact on the community as the big issues.  So today, I want to spotlight an example of a less-visible issue in which RCA's work has made a difference.

Those of you who have read me regularly won't be surprised to learn that this project involves Ken Fredgren and the Reston Accessibility Committee. Ken's not one to toot his own horn, and RAC's work rarely receives public recgonition.  But the committee is committed to making Reston a better place to live for people with disabilities, and they've done a lot of quiet but concrete work to make that happen in the four years since they got started.

In the example I'm going to spotlight today, Ken began an effort that's very much in line with RAC's typical work.  But by the time he'd finished, he had affected changes that went beyond the scope of RAC's mission, and made an important community property better.

The project in question involves the Southgate Community Center (SCC), a valuable community resource that doesn't always get as much attention as it should.  RAC had received multiple complaints from Restonians about the accessible parking spaces at SCC, and since RAC makes it a priority to respond to community concerns, Ken went over to examine the situation in June.

There are two accessible spaces at SCC.  One of them was fine, but there was a problem with the other one. The accessible parking sign for the second space was not located in front of the space; rather, it was located in front of the access aisle between the spaces.  The location of the sign had mistakenly led some people to park in the access aisle, rather than in the space itself.

If you're a person with a wheelchair and someone's parked in the access aisle, that's a problem, because it's now impossible to open your door and get your wheelchair in or out of your car.  And since Southgate hosts programs for children with disabilities, the problem with accessible spaces came up frequently.

So Ken swung into action.  After inspecting the situation and identifying the issues, he met with Supervisor Cathy Hudgins and her staff to discuss the issues and outline the solutions.  All this is fiarly standard for a RAC project.  But while inspecting the parking space issue, Ken met with SCC's executive director, Ricardo Cabellos, and Donna Goldbranson, founder of SPARC, which is one of the programs for children with disabilities I referred to above.  During their meeting, Ricardo and Donna discussed some other issues at SCC with Ken.  And Ken took action on those issues as well.

The first problem: the grounds were a mess.  When he was doing his inspection visits, Ken noticed that parts of the SCC grounds with littered with trash and overgrown with weeds.  He was stunned to learn that Fairfax County did not consider the SCC grounds part of its responsibility.  Ken contacted a member of the SCC board, who got in touch with Supervisor Hudgins' staff.  Within days, not only had RA's Weed Warriors gone to SCC to clean up the mess, but the SCC grounds were added to Fairfax County's maintenance contract.  Thanks to Ken's diligence and Supervisor Hudgins' staff, weeds and trash should no longer be an ongoing problem at the SCC.

Ricardo and Donna pointed out a couple of other problems to Ken.  One had to do with parking lot drainage.  The sidewalk and the parking lot at the SCC slope away from the building, as they should to keep the building from flooding.  Unfortunately, there's no storm drain at the far end of the parking lot.  So when there's a hard rain - which has been happening a lot lately - the far end of the sidewalk and parking lot get flooded, which renders them unusable by SCC patrons.  Also, there is a row of bollards on the outside of the building along the emergency access lane.  It seems the bollards would actually make it harder for fire or ambulance personnel to access the building in an emergency, and no one is sure why the bollards are there.

Ken alerted Supervisor Hudgins and her staff to both of these issues.  RCA was more than happy to assist him by sending a letter to the Supervisor, asking her to prioritize construction of the storm drain (which is not a small expense, but a worthwhile investment).  We are optimistic that these issues will be resolved favorably.

What about those accessible spaces, you may wonder?  Well, thanks to Ken's adovcacy, last week the County restriped the entire SCC parking lot.  The two spaces are now marked with the universal sign of accessibility right on the spaces, to reduce confusion, and the signs are in the process of being moved.  The County also plans to upgrade the button that activates the accessible door into the building.

Thanks to their efforts of Ken and RAC, not only have the accessible parking spaces been fixed, but a number of other real changes are being made that will make SCC better for everyone.  This isn't the stuff of newspaper headlines, but it's a real change to Reston for the better.

If you want to say thanks to Ken and RAC, or find out more about what the committee is doing in and beyond Reston, you'll have a chance to do that next month, when RAC is holding a community forum titled "Accessibility: A Call to Action." 

Ken likes to joke that he's holding this forum to get me off his back about the subject, but I've encouraged him to arrange the event so that our citizens can learn more about what RAC is doing for them, and how they can get involved in RAC's efforts to improve life for people with disabilities within Reston, but also across all of Virginia.

The forum will spotlight changes to the state building code that have been proposed by a working group on which Ken served, as well as a bill in the General Assembly that would provide tax credits for businesses that make changes to improve the accessibility of their property.  If these building code changes and this bill are passed, Virginia and its buildings will become much more friendly to people with disabilities.  You'll learn what exactly the changes would involve, you'll have the chance to ask questions about the changes or about RAC in general, and you'll learn what you can do to help.  You'll also have the chance to learn about resources the County offers to help those with disabilities.

The forum is taking place on October 3rd from 9 to noon at the RA headquarters.  I hope you'll come out to learn more about an important issue, find out how you can get involved, and meet a man who's quietly working to make Reston a better place to live.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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